Over on Facebook, a discussion took place about how Philippine publications can make headway in the crowded book market dominated by mostly American books. Like many other authors, I find it sad to see the big bookstores display foreign titles prominently in their display windows. In the stores themselves, the Filipiniana section is somewhere in the midst of the sea of shelves.
In that discussion, the participants were talking about distribution issues, from the lack of distribution channels to the difficulty in convincing the big bookstores to push local books. These concerns are all valid, for sure, and these issues are similarly faced by Filipino comics creators. But is distribution really the main issue?
I will argue that if distribution was the main problem, then every product displayed prominently in every mega-chain retail establishment would have no problem getting sold to the satisfaction of their manufacturers. But we all know that's not true. Hundreds of products then and now have enjoyed excellent distribution, but have been eventually phased out.
Your own experience validates this. If you were to buy shampoo from the supermarket, do you try every single brand and variant on the shelves, even if they were displayed in front of your face? Not really. You might pick it up, check the label and the price, but then dismiss it in favor of the brand that you've always used.
Distribution is only a small, albeit important, part of the whole spectrum of marketing. But marketing, at its core, is primarily concerned with one thing and one thing alone, and all activities revolve around this one thing. It's the reason why you chose your favorite shampoo in the first place, and the reason you try new products down the line.
It's called perceived value.
Perceived value is, simply, what a customer gets out of your product that is believed to be greater than the perceived cost.
Here's an example of what that means, based on personal experience.
When I first released Zsazsa Zaturnnah in 2002, I wasn't expecting a lot of sales. Firstly, I didn't send out press releases. Secondly, it was only available in three branches of Comic Quest. Thirdly, it was a "gay Darna" story, a local publication, sitting alongside the more popular Marvel and DC titles.
After the Philippine Daily Inquirer published Ruel de Vera's review of the book, sales dramatically soared. I couldn't believe the kind of response the book was getting. Vin Simbulan, the manager of the Megamall branch, joked, "I had never seen so many homosexuals in my life." Meaning, a lot of these customers were not regulars.
In short, people went out of their way to go to a store they don't normally go to, to buy a book that they perceived to be worth the effort.
Perceived value (what the book promised) was greater than perceived cost (going to comic book shop that had only three branches in the metro).
While distribution is important in book marketing, the question still remains: what value does a product give? Does that value make a prospective customer excited enough to ignore the perceived cost?
So how does one create value? Or, specifically, enough value that will trump perceived costs? That's a challenge every marketer faces, a much more difficult affair when it comes to creative works like fiction and comics. Not everyone succeeds, but it's a principle that can't be ignored in the crowded marketplace.
In the next blog post, we'll talk a bit about creating value for your book.